I’m not sure why, but in the last week I have had more conversations about my ulcerative colitis than usual. These talks fell on both sides of the spectrum: “I need your advice” to “Ew, don’t talk about that!” (Dude, you asked!). Now that I spend a good chunk of time outside of work pounding the pavement due to marathon training, I found it appropriate to relate those gut discussions back to my sport. I started playing on Google, coming across random listicles about why running, living, breathing with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is, like, the worst thing ever. After about the sixth one, I noticed that a lot of the lists were focused on the negative things that people would never “understand” about our autoimmune situation. That was a popular word: understand. So, in the spirit of high mileage, race-day nutrition testing and the porcelain throne, I decided to attempt to help understand why running with an angry gut is actually a blessing wrapped in toilet paper (for those who said “Ew!” before, shield your eyes):
- You know your body’s limits, inside and out. Think about all of your run buds who have suffered from an unexpected cramp or angry gut before, during or after a run. Now, for all you fellow IBDers, think about all of the times you’ve run with those same problems and probably didn’t think twice about them. We’ve all had those vocal intestines that call for immediately discontinuing a run. Fortunately for us peeps who manage this on a fairly regular basis, we know which ones are for real and which ones are psyching us out.
- You know where every bathroom is along your usual runs. Hell, you know where every dark corner is when indoor plumbing isn’t an option. This works both in emergencies for you and your friends. The joke in my circle is, “Hey, does anyone know where the bathroom is?” “Caitlyn does!”
- You’re more patient with nutrition. There isn’t any quick fix to nailing the perfect race nutrition for anyone. Much like the drug cocktail I was on many moons ago, fueling will probably be an ongoing experiment for me, as for many runners. But I seem to have more patience with it than my marathoning buddies. They cuss out gel packs for ruining their lives, while I’m patiently researching, sampling and re-evaluating my calories, knowing that it’s probably not going to be the final answer for me.
- If it happens, you’re in the right sport. I’m the weirdo who has never peed on herself during a race. While not as socially acceptable to gloat about, should you have an urgency that just couldn’t wait for the bathroom, at least you can blame it on “runner’s trots.” Amiright?
- Popping pills everyday is totally your jam. I am not a supporter for being on pills for the rest of your life. But right now, that is my reality. So I roll with it and say, “Hey, you’re downing your medication anyway—why not toss in a few of those extra vitamins you used to forget to take?”
- There’s a training program for that. It’s called Team Challenge, and it’s taking over the country one fundraising runner at a time. Want to crush a half or full? They have teams for that. Want to cruise through your first sprint tri? They have that too. Want to be an overachiever and destroy an Ironman? That’s their newest gig, and it’s probably going to be their most popular by the end of next year.
- You feel that much more accomplished after a bad tummy day. No one enjoys a good ol’ fashioned stomach ache. For us runners who apparently have a chronically ill abdominal region, a basic stomach ache is like a dream compared to the overpowering, cold-sweat-inducing, anxiety-creating deep pain that drops like a pin near your belly button and ripples out across your entire midsection. For hours. So when I get back from a 10-miler, as I did earlier this week, where I had to bite my lip and suffer for half of the run, I feel pretty damn accomplished. I only wish that I could immediately chow on a hamburger that wouldn’t perpetuate the problem.
Bonus: Writing about IBD and running will (hopefully) lend some support to those still in the closet about their own conditions. Feel free to Tweet or DM @caitpilk with your thoughts!